“Dharma” is a Sanskrit word meaning “purpose.” We each come to feel at some point in our lives that there is something important for us to do, or learn, or experience. As we grow in awareness, we seek to know our dharma, to fulfill our purpose, to somehow have our lives make sense in the context of everything that is going on in the world. In Vedic philosophy, there are four yogas, or paths, that can lead us to our dharma:
Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. Bhakti is the love of all creation. It is about loving what is, without expectation. Through our relationships with people we can experience a greater awareness. There is a power, a positive energy that comes with love, that we can utilize for our spiritual growth. Vedanta explains that our love for others is unselfish and without motive when we can see the spirit within them. It is this spirit whom we truly love. With Bhakti Yoga, we learn through our relationships, and through our primary relationship, which is with ourselves.
Karma Yoga is the path of work, or the path of service. This is work without attachment to the end result. Rather than working for a paycheck, it is performing the work we do as a spiritual offering. Karma Yoga teaches us that working merely for money, or promotions, or praise, leads us to disappointment, because we can never meet all of our expectations; it is never “enough.” However, working as a service to ourselves and to others, allows us to experience spirit in everything we do. This gives us both energy and peace of mind.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. This is knowledge in the higher sense, knowing who we are. Knowing is different than believing, it uses reasoning to help us shed the veil of illusion. Vedanta gives us tools to achieve this through affirmations that help to remind us of what is real, and to see the truth. Jnana Yoga teaches to become more discerning, recognizing the difference between what is temporary and what is eternal, so that we understand that we are pure, perfect, and free. We come to understand that the only thing we really take with us from this life experience is the wisdom that we garner.
Raja Yoga is the path of meditation. Raja Yoga explains that we need to settle down the mind, which is constantly stirred up with thoughts just as a lake is muddied through activity. When the lake settles down, the water becomes crystal clear, and so it is with our mind. This tranquil state of mind lets us think more clearly, and to see what is important in life. Vedanta teaches us that we can integrate this experience into all aspects of our life. Our spiritual self is our true self and we can operate in society more effectively and efficiently when we understand this.
There is wisdom to be gained from each of these paths. Yet it is likely that one of these paths will resonate with particular individuals more than the others. One will seem to offer a more clear direction, a more effortless journey. To help you determine which path might be the one most productive for you, I’ve come up with a short Dharma quiz. This is not scientific, there are no right or wrong answers; this is just for your own personal inventory. It’s another way of getting to know yourself better.